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Northern Ireland Opera Festival of Voice: Music triumphs in showdown of opera soloists

Those who object in principle to music competitions have a point: it really did feel cruel that just one of the five young Irish singers in the Gala Final of NI Opera's Festival of Voice at Glenarm had to be declared the 'winner', at the expense of the four others.

There was, in truth, a steady supply of excellence from all the performers.

Coleraine mezzo-soprano Helen Aiken made an early impression in an aria from Mozart's opera La Clemenza di Tito, ripely sung and projected with feeling.

So too did Padraic Rowan, in two duets revealing a dark-toned, well focused baritone, with marked bass colourations.

He also acted convincingly, as did fellow baritone Séan Boylan in a fiery performance of Tutto e disposto, the Count's recitative and aria from The Marriage of Figaro.

Some of the finest performances came in the song section.

They included a sentient, poised performance of Samuel Barber's A Green Lowland of Pianos by soprano Rachel Wolseley.

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Another soprano, Sarah Shine, also chose Barber, and harnessed her bright, alluring timbre to an already mature interpretive temperament in The Desire for Hermitage. It all posed a horrendously difficult dilemma for the distinguished panel of judges.

They eventually nominated Séan Boylan as Festival of Voice winner 2014 – a verdict possibly sealed by his heartfelt rendition of Frank Bridge's song When You Are Old And Grey.

Helen Aiken took the audience prize, but all five singers contributed brilliantly to this richly enjoyable evening.

Four stars

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